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System shake-up calls for urgent priorities


Testing times lie ahead for the Higher Education (HE) sector, not least from the laws of unintended consequences. There is, of course, the working through of higher fees and graduate debt to be managed, which will, however, not produce as much extra cash for the system as is needed.

In this context, UK undergraduates will not contribute as much revenue as postgraduates and students from abroad. The resultant squeeze on undergraduate places for UK students will be reinforced by the forecast growth in the number of overseas entrants, due to the outstanding reputation of British courses and the growth of the middle classes in, for example, China and India (two-thirds of students at the LSE are non-UK already).

On top of this is the proposed 'fair access' regulator, moves to integrate further and highereducation spending, and, intriguingly, the emergence of English language courses open to UK undergraduates in other EU countries (and beyond, where the RIBA recognition system may come into play), with lower fees and cost of living patterns.

Clearly, all this will have significance for architectural education, although it is difficult to predict precisely what, due to the complexity of the situation. However, let us hope reactions do not take the form of yet more strategic review groups, position papers, conferences, futurology, etc. The primary need is to increase flexibility, for which the ingredients exist already, with energy focused otherwise upon two urgent courses of action.

The aim must be to sustain the individual on their path to initial qualification and thereafter through a system that can adapt for them, whatever their varying financial, personal and professional needs. The RIBA has maintained its own qualifying examinations in architecture and professional practice (the bedrock of the system), operates the profession's validation machinery for courses in academic institutions (here and abroad), and continues to develop its mandatory CPD structure - it thus has the authority, experience and structures to lead a move to greater flexibility in partnership with practices and schools.

Otherwise, the two broad factors that need priority attention are, first, improvement of the support given to part-time students, where the many others currently seeking action on this front should be joined by the RIBA and the schools. Second, the trend that has moved so far towards the HE-focused fulltime route since the 1960s will now move back towards greater responsibility once more for the profession itself in the initial formation process (as already is the case with CPD) - here, too, action is needed to galvanise and plan the profession's response.

Out of this will emerge a healthier, more harmonious system, so it is a positive prospect.

(And it may turn out that Part 1 becomes the principal full-time component - any retreat from professional validation at that level would be premature and, in any case, unwise. ) Peter Gibbs-Kennet, Bisley, Gloucestershire,

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